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Understanding Development and Mentors

“The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.”

Jean Piaget (1896 -1980 )

Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a concept developed by soviet Psychologist Lev Vygotsky. The ZPD is the difference between what someone can do and what they cannot do. In this zone, the person can learn new skills with aid from someone more experienced. To make things easier, let’s refer to the person learning as the “child” and the person giving aid as the “adult.” However, the ZPD does not necessarily only apply to children. It applies to anyone learning something new.

The ZPD changes for each individual and as the domain of unaided skills increases so does the ZPD and the domain of skills that cannot be done decreases.

Piaget and Constructivism

Jean Piaget was a famous Swiss developmental psychologist who was best known for his work in genetic epistemology and constructivism. I highly recommend looking into his work if you work or spend lots of time with kids. Piaget believed that people build new representations of the world on top of their preexisting knowledge in which the new interpretation would incorporate the old interpretation. This is the basis of constructivism.

I like to look at it like this – we can use a bronze axe to chop down a tree, but over time we changed the bronze to steel, and eventually we replace the axe with a power saw. Each of these tools can still cut the tree down but over time the tools we use to get the job done become more comprehensive, efficient, and effective. The same goes for our ways of interpreting the world. When we’re young, we see things a certain way and as we get older we learn new things which explain everything we understood before and more!

The same thing happens in science as well. Isaac Newton founded an entire field of study known as Newtonian physics and it explains so much of what happen in the material objective world but it was unable to explain a few things like how light seemed to travel the same speed no matter which way it was pointing. Over time, a little German boy named Albert Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity and blew out the doors in the world of physics. Now, Newtonian physics is a subset of Einsteinian physics. Einstein’s theories explain everything Newton was able to explain plus more and this is exactly how we build our own understandings of the world.

Piaget’s constructivist theory works in tandem with Vygotsky’s ZPD theory. We start off with understanding very little but that helps us expand our understanding and this is useful because the world we live in is infinitely complicated and we don’t know very much about the absolute state of being so we need to be able to constantly update our perceptual systems. We can get this updated information through mentorship (we can find the answers ourselves but we make much more progress with mentors), asking the right questions, exploration, and play.

Build a Panel of Mentors

In Game of Thrones, (and in many historical monarchies as well) the king had a small council to advise him on matters outside his expertise. I fell in love with this idea but I found myself frustrated of the king’s small council. I wouldn’t have filled my council with tyrannical sociopaths but with mentors and other people that I look up to. We should all strive to build a small council of mentors.

Building a small council, reading books, taking time to cultivate ourselves will help us expand our domains of unaided skills. When I first graduated from college, I felt ill equipped to handle the world and I knew I needed to learn new things. At the time, I didn’t have a traditional mentor or someone to model myself after but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t keep growing.

I found the works of incredible people and they acted as my guide when I found myself in pitfalls or moments of confusion. These people included Jordan Peterson, Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, Seneca, and many others. I highly recommend building your own personal panel of advisors. It’s great if you can have one in person, but if you don’t have immediate access to mentors then check out the works of the people that you would like to have advise you. I recommend creating a balanced panel in terms of personal specialty. I believe different people do better in different situations and the panel should be diverse enough to have strengths in all situations. Each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, and a balanced panel’s member’s strengths should compliment the weaknesses of the others. What Seneca lacks in 21st century technology knowledge, Tim Ferriss provides in just 1 book. What Tim lacks in timeless wisdom, Seneca provides in just 1 book. Both of them on my panel ensures I have the best of both worlds.

Stand on the shoulders of giants. Create a mastermind of the best people you can imagine and make that team unstoppable.


Everything you need to learn to be an excellent and whatever you want is within your ZPD. Here is a list of difficult skills that, if developed properly, pay off for the rest of your life:

  • Life long learning and skill acquisition 
  • Grit development
  • Adaptability
  • Silencing your inner critic
  • Learning to say no
  • Critical thinking 
  • Creative thinking 
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Decision making
  • Writing
  • Leadership
  • Personal effectiveness
  • Persuasion
  • Cooking
  • Reflection
  • Compassion
  • Meditation
  • Self-control

These are great starting points if you aren’t sure which skills are worth developing. Honestly though, developing yourself in all of these things will take a lifetime, so I recommend finding which skills are most relevant to you and prioritize accordingly. I talk more about this in my post The 20 Hour Rule and Metaskills.

Developing ourselves is a huge undertaking and requires a bunch of effort, but what else do we have better to do? If we’re better people, we do better, and we cannot fathom the reach of our actions.

One reply on “Understanding Development and Mentors”

[…] Focused thinking is what we traditionally think of when we hear the word thinking. It’s effortful, deliberate, and concentrated. It’s what we use when we’re consciously trying to solve a problem. Focused thinking eliminates distractions and gets the job done through sheer will power. This type of thinking is made possible through the contributions made by the prefrontal cortex. Focused thinking is optimal when you have high energy and the solution to the problem is right outside your zone of proximal development. […]